|House of Cards character|
Robin Wright as Claire Underwood
|First appearance||"Chapter 1"|
|Created by||Beau Willimon|
|Portrayed by||Robin Wright|
|Occupation||Non-profit executive and lobbyist
Second Lady of the United States (Season 2)
First Lady of the United States (Seasons 2-3)
United States Ambassador to the United Nations (Season 3)
Claire Hale Underwood is a fictional character in House of Cards, played by Robin Wright. She is the wife of the show's protagonist Francis J. "Frank" Underwood. She is a lobbyist and runs an environmental nonprofit organization, but in later seasons ascends to the position of Second Lady of the United States, and finally First Lady of the United States and the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Underwood made her first appearance in the series' pilot episode, "Chapter 1". The character is based on Elizabeth Urquhart, a character from the 1990 UK series from which the current series is derived.
The role has been critically acclaimed. Wright won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama for this role at the 71st Golden Globe Awards, becoming the first actress to win a Golden Globe Award for a web television online-only role in a series. She was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for this role at the 65th and 66th Primetime Emmy Awards.
Brian Stelter of The New York Times described her as Underwood's conniving wife and described the Underwoods as "the scheming husband and wife at the center of 'House of Cards'". She is a woman "who will stop at nothing to conquer everything". She and Frank scheme nightly over a cigarette. Frank says of Claire: "I love that woman, I love her more than sharks love blood." Hank Stuever of The Washington Post describes her as an "ice-queen wife". The Independent's Sarah Hughes echoes this description, saying she is so dedicated to the couple's schemes that it is clear she will execute them herself if Frank wavers.
While Frank is Machiavellian, Claire presents a woman urging on her husband's assertion of power in the image of Lady Macbeth. She encourages his vices while noting her disapproval of his weaknesses, saying "My husband doesn’t apologize...even to me." This gives a credibility to their symbiosis. Unlike Elizabeth Urquhart, Claire's counterpart from the original BBC version of House of Cards, Claire has her own storylines. She is a lobbyist who runs an environmental group while serving as Underwood's primary accomplice. Her extramarital affair with an artist friend provides her only escape from a "calculated life". Willimon notes that, "What's extraordinary about Frank and Claire is there is deep love and mutual respect, but the way they achieve this is by operating on a completely different set of rules than the rest of us typically do."
Nancy deWolf Smith of The Wall Street Journal describes Claire as "a short-haired blonde who manages to be masculine and demasculinizing at the same time." Smith describes their relationship as pivotal to the show: "Benign though they may seem — and their harmless air is what makes the Underwoods so effective as political plotters — this is a power couple with the same malignant chemistry as pairs of serial killers, where each needs the other in order to become lethal".
According to Drew Grant of The New York Observer, Claire's season-long storyline was similar to the real life efforts of United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's to legislate an end to military sexual assault. Based upon the 4-episode preview, Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times says that in season 2 Claire "is still ruthlessly pursuing her own agenda as well as her husband’s. She remains an enigma even as she reveals more and more disturbing secrets from her past." When Gillian, a pregnant former employee, returns from season 1 to fight for health care, Claire states "I am willing to let your child wither and die inside you, if that’s what’s required,...Am I really the sort of enemy you want to make?" Claire remains composed and stylish with or without her husband and plays the press with aplomb. However, a skeleton from her college days appears: During a nationally televised interview, she admits that she was raped in college, and that her rapist is now a high-ranking general. It is also revealed that she grew up in the wealthy Dallas enclave of Highland Park, after which she recounts when her father took her to Dealey Plaza where John F. Kennedy was assassinated and she remembered feeling “so sad, so angry.”
Claire and Frank continue to share intimacy by smoking together at the window in their Washington townhouse as they scheme to "impose their will on Washington". Upon viewing a four episode preview of season 2, Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter says the series "...sells husband and wife power-at-all-costs couple Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) Underwood as a little too oily and reptilian for anyone's good." Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara makes the case that House of Cards is a love story on many levels but most importantly between Frank and Claire.
Claire encounters her rapist, General Dalton McGinnis, at a White House function, and gives a televised interview in which she details what he did to her. She uses the political momentum from her interview to lobby for support for legislation supporting victims of military sexual assault, and then converts the focus on that issue into political support that becomes critical to the Underwoods' ascension to the Oval Office. Also, over the course of the season, Claire "intentionally ruined the lives of her ex-lover, the First Lady and a fellow rape victim". She also threatens the well-being of a pregnant former employee. In the season finale, she urges Frank to humble himself before President Walker, with whom he has fallen out of favor, in order to complete the plan: "Cut out your heart and put it in his fucking hands." The gambit works: Walker keeps Frank as his Vice President, allowing Frank to succeed him when he resigns. Frank is now President of the United States, with Claire as the First Lady of the United States.
In Season 3, Claire feels the need to be something more "significant" than the First Lady, and asks Frank to nominate her to a United Nations post. He nominates her, but the Senate rejects her after a rocky hearing. Frank gives her the job anyway in a recess appointment, but her tenure is brief; she ruins a treaty between the U.S. and Russia by confronting Russian President Viktor Petrov about his anti-gay policies, and is forced to resign when Petrov uses her as a bargaining chip during a diplomatic crisis.
During Frank's election campaign, Claire begins to question whether she still loves him. In the season finale, she and Frank get into an ugly fight in which she says he is not enough for her; Frank replies that without him, she is nothing. Season three ends with Claire leaving Frank as he prepares to go to the New Hampshire primary.
Wright's performance is described as "nuanced and compelling". Claire has "chilly poise" but the "coolly regal doyenne" softens over the course of the first season according to New Republic's Laura Bennet. Wright plays the role with "an almost terrifying froideur". As a couple Frank and Claire are said to "reverberate with tension and wit". Michael Dobbs compares the compelling nature of the relationship between Frank and Claire favorably to the original characters in House of Cards and likens them to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. He is not alone. In season 2, she remains "equally steely". Despite suggestions to the contrary, Wright insists that the character is not based on Hillary Clinton.
Awards and nominations
On July 18, 2013, Netflix earned the first Primetime Emmy Award nominations for original online only web television for the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards. Three of its web series, Arrested Development, Hemlock Grove, and House of Cards, earned nominations. Among those nominations was Wright's portrayal of Claire Underwood for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series as well as Kevin Spacey's portrayal of Frank Underwood for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and Jason Bateman's portrayal of Michael Bluth in Arrested Development for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, making these three roles the first three leading roles to be Primetime Emmy Award-nominated from a web television series. The role has also earned Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama award at the 71st Golden Globe Awards on January 12, 2014. In so doing she became the first actress to win a Golden Globe Award for an online-only web television series.
In season 2, Claire continued to be a critically acclaimed role. Wright earned a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series nomination at the 4th Critics' Choice Television Awards. Wright was again nominated for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards and Best Actress – Television Series Drama at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards. She was nominated for both Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series at the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In season 3, she was nominated for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards, Best Actress – Television Series Drama at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards, as well as both Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series at the 22nd Screen Actors Guild Awards.
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